Driving to the San Diego airport at 5 in the morning with Dad and Mr. Fatty Pants, I feel profoundly exhausted, exhilarated for no reason, and seeped in an altered state of consciousness. Memories, thoughts, dreams, dreads all mingle and nausea takes the wheel as I recall not for the last time that vacation is over, and that what I am returning to is a dilapidated, raw, and overbearing marriage situation in Houston. And of course the merciless heat.

There is too much to say, and so Dad and I are silent. Then he tells me about a dream that he had.

“I had a dream last night about altered reality. You know, the kind of dream where you don’t know what is real and what is a dream, and if it IS real, whose reality it is?…In the beginning of the dream we were living our life, I was working, doing research, and then suddenly I was called to service. To serve in the armed forces, that is. Well I went and before I could start there were several tests that I had to pass. There was one particular test that everyone spoke of with an eerie distaste. From the name of it I couldn’t understand why those who had gone through it were so unwilling to talk. But then one of the soldiers explained. What happened is that a rope, like a bungee cord, was tied around your feet, and you were supposed to jump down, head first. Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, I told the soldier. He looked at me strangely and replied, “The catch is that you have to jump down into a dark pipe. You don’t know how long you fall before the rope straightens out. And then they have you hang there for a while…”. “How long?” I asked. “With each person it’s different. However long you last…”

Last thing I remember from that dream – I was peering at all of the soldiers sitting around, playing cards and laughing as if they were having the time of their lives. And I was looking at them, hard, trying to figure out what is it in them that makes them survive – that allows them to withstand that test…”

Dad falls silent. We’ve almost reached the airport and the weepy feeling of nausea has escalated to where I can hardly speak. I gulp down, process the information he just shared, and, feeling a bit confused, ask, “How is that dream related to altered reality?”

“Well simple. It’s as if you’re living your life, thinking you are in control, living out the decisions you yourself once made. And then suddenly you find that you were wrong. You are not in control. And you don’t know who is. Or how long you’ll be falling…”

Yeah, I think, you can say that again.

Then a strange twist of fate, or chance, or mercy…and we miss our flight. We are just a few minutes too late. As if in a trance Dad walks Mr. Fatty Pants and me out of the airport and back to the car. And now we are driving again.

I recall an episode from a few years ago and tell Dad.

“Remember when I worked at the UCSD library? That first fall of college, my boss and her family had flown to Boston on vacation, and when she returned, a few weeks later, I greeted her at work and asked her how her vacation was. She looked quite ill and told me that it was terrible; that the day they were supposed to get on the plane and fly home she got really sick. So sick that they ended up having to cancel their flight and take a different one a few days later…”I’m sorry..”, I told her, “But besides that last day, was everything else good?” She looked at me kind of funny and kind of alarmed. “Well, Anya” she said, “That flight that we were supposed to take from Boston…it crashed in Pennsylvania…”

I can’t go on and there was no need to. There is no place for words. Of course, how could I forget that sunny morning on the 11th of September…

And so we drive home. Me – filled with a sense of discombobulated relief, a haunting premonition, and something akin to joy. The sun-scorched, golden hills are bathed in morning light, and a raspy voice whispers in my soul: with each person it’s different…however long you last…

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